Our Predictions In The Ladies Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG)
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2019 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why.
The panelists are:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Sean Li (SL), editorial director of Blackbird Watch Manual
Tim Mosso (TM), watch specialist and media director of pre-owned watch retailer Watchbox
Note: as jury members, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr and resident collector GaryG do not take part in these early predictions.
The GPHG foundation describes the Ladies category for watches entered as “comprising only the following indications: hours, minutes, seconds, date, power reserve, and/or classic moon phase. These timepieces may be adorned with a maximum of eight carats’ worth of gemstones.”
JM: Once again we find ourselves debating the best of the best as we discuss the 2019 GPHG pre-selected watches, a collection that truly inspires hope for the future of the watch industry.
As we kick things off with the Ladies category I am reminded that female-oriented watches still only make up three categories (plus a half category if you count artistic crafts) out of 19 total (four of which are special categories). The total number of entries across all categories is 196 pieces, 41 of which are female specific. So while the representation is still somewhat lackluster, it does represent one-fifth of all entries. And given the quality of the female-specific pieces, I would hope to see expanded category options in the future, perhaps a Ladies Astronomical or Mechanical Exception allowing for a better distribution and greater visibility of the variety in women’s watches and prompting more involvement in the GPHG of female-oriented watches.
SL: We’ve certainly seen a clear progression in recent years where women have become much more in tune with watches that go beyond jewelry pieces, Joshua.
Here I look for watches that I feel have been designed specifically for women, rather than the ones where a slightly smaller diameter and a few diamonds are supposed to feminize an existing design.
MG: It seems like the GPHG gets bigger and better each year, but also more important. Over the years we have seen that a win at the contest carries significant weight and can increase the success that a watch has in the market. Of course, it is also not bad for the brand’s image as a whole to secure a win or two. Even being pre-selected (shortlisted) can have a positive impact, so in a way the watches we discuss in these round tables are already winners.
TM: I’d like to preface my predictions with a quick comment on the state of the awards: there are too many. Some of these categories – do we really need 19 prize classes? – are fatuous and arbitrary. There’s an everyone-gets-a-trophy air to proceedings that reeks of the organizer’s ploy to encourage as many brands as possible to trumpet their wins to the wider world.
Free advertising for the GPHG Foundation is well and good, but the surplus of winners dilutes the relevance and impact of the true milestone watches in each year’s selection. In other words, the GPHG truly is the Academy Awards of watchmaking.
Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori in pink gold and diamonds
SL: This an interesting interpretation of one of Bulgari’s signature designs, making it much more wearable on a daily basis (as beautiful as the Serpenti bracelet is, it’s certainly one that generally is reserved for special occasions and is closer to a jewelry piece than a timepiece).
MG: I too think that Bulgari did an excellent job of turning one of its signature jewelry designs into a more wearable “everyday” watch.
JM: I think this is one of the best straightforward women’s watches in this category. It has a decidedly feminine shape, a beautiful bracelet, a lovely addition of small diamonds (not too much to overpower it), and I feel it could be dressed up or down depending on the occasion even though it is pink gold.
IS: I’m a big fan of the asymmetric case of the Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori in pink gold and diamonds, however I feel that I’ve seen it too often before.
JM: I feel like this is one that would be chosen the most by women looking for a great-looking, versatile watch that could cover a lot of bases. The main thing keeping me from ranking it higher than my third place in this category is the quartz movement (which probably won’t deter the jury as much as me) since I will always love the mechanics more than the watch as a whole. I could easily see this watch winning with the right jury and wouldn’t be surprised if it did, though I would have preferred it to have a small manual-wind movement inside.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/serpenti-seduttori-pink-gold-and-diamonds.
Quick Facts Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori in pink gold and diamonds
Case: 33 x 6,85 mm, pink gold set with diamonds
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 27,100 Swiss francs
Chanel J12 Calibre 12.1
IS: While the 2019 GPHG pre-selected Ladies’ watches are all excellent choices, the vast majority are variations on models we have seen before. An exception in this list is the completely reworked Chanel J12, which, while superficially similar to its predecessor, is 100 percent new.
SL: The new J12 is the perfect embodiment of how the watch market has evolved for women; Chanel blazed the trail 20 years ago (!) with its metrosexual design and has cleverly updated it so that the previous iterations still feel contemporary but added a new manufacture movement.
MG: The new movement is indeed a welcome upgrade, but the rest is the J12 that we already knew so well.
IS: It’s worth noting, Martin, that while the new J12 looks very similar to the original, everything you see on the dial and case has been tweaked and updated (for the better).
TM: The Chanel J12 stands out as a significant mechanical and aesthetic overhaul of a landmark model family, but the time to acknowledge the J12’s innovation was the early 2000s, not 2019.
JM: This watch is a popular piece for Chanel and it features a very solid and technically advanced ceramic case and bracelet, making for a durable and bold timepiece. It also has a very reliable automatic caliber inside that takes this watch from fashion piece to serious wristwear. Yet I feel the style might be a bit too middle-of-the-road. This is clearly a great watch; I just don’t know if it has what it takes to win this category.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/j12-calibre-121.
Quick Facts Chanel J12 Calibre 12.1
Case: 38 x 12.6 mm, ceramic
Movement: automatic Caliber 12.1, power reserve 70 hours; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 5,650 Swiss francs
Hermès Galop d’Hermès
JM: The fine Hermès Galop d’Hermès shares visual cues with the Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori, though I feel it doesn’t live up to the design excellence needed to win this category. The proportions and aesthetic choices make it feel a bit dated and less modern than its competitors in this category, and it doesn’t achieve what I might consider a timeless grace.
SL: I’m a bit puzzled by this one; I can see the equestrian influence of the stirrup, but it looks distorted. The crown on the bottom of the watch is confusing because it’s at the bottom of the stirrup, and the proportions are off with a strap that seems too thin on the lower lug. Perhaps I’m being too much of a perfectionist relative to what I expect of my own watches, but it feels as if it’s trying too hard to be different without going far enough.
IS: The Hermès Galop d’Hermès is an great design, but as with many of the other timepieces in both the Ladies category and in all the GPHG categories I can’t shake of the feeling that I’ve seen it too often before.
MG: Hermès designs are always subtle and refined. However, at this end of its collection I also think that the brand has a tendency to become a bit bland. Nevertheless, this is a commercial strategy that has proven to work for Hermès.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/galop-dhermes.
Quick Facts Hermès Galop d’Hermès
Case: 26 x 40.8 x 7.92 mm, pink gold with diamonds
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 15,700 Swiss francs
Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium alternative pavé
JM: Talk about bold, my second-place pick is the Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski, a standout watch for the woman that demands attention. The faceted case styling combined with the non-symmetrical diamond settings is a real knockout. And adding the faceted dial and lack of any bright colors makes for a slightly less stereotypical view of what a women’s watch can be. It is a little large for a women’s watch, but these days that isn’t a dealbreaker for a lot of people.
JM: Based on the style of artist Richard Orlinski and his geometrically faceted sculptures, the Classic Fusion Orlinski falls right into a sweet spot for Hublot as the brand and Orlinski feel spiritually connected, making this design combination just work for the piece. In a category of very traditionally feminine watches, the Hublot stands out. Which is a good thing in a competition. Still, I feel it falls short of being the best women’s watch as it tries to capture too specific a market segment.
MG: For me personally the watch that truly stands out in this category is this Hublot. This brand does partnerships very well, and the one with French contemporary artist Richard Orlinski has certainly rendered some spectacular watches. This is most certainly one of them with the stunning dial and the asymmetrical diamond setting. A nice detail is also that the designers opted for titanium as the case material. Polished to perfection, it complements the diamonds so nicely.
IS: It will take more than a sprinkling of diamonds for me to consider the Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium a true ladies’ watch, though, Martin.
SL: I remember the buzz when Hublot won the women’s watch category at the 2015 GPHG with the Big Bang Broderie. This one is, perhaps, an even better ladies’ watch, but it’s a little too close to the “let’s downsize and throw in some diamonds” approach for me as well, Ian.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/classic-fusion-orlinski-titanium-alternative-pave.
Quick Facts Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium alternative pavé
Case: 40 x 11.1 mm, titanium set with brilliant-cut diamonds
Movement: automatic Caliber HUB1100 (based on Sellita SW 300), power reserve 42 hours; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 200 pieces
Price: 17,900 Swiss francs
Moritz Grossmann Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise
SL: I admire the workmanship that goes into this watch, but with all due respect to the brand it doesn’t speak to me as a ladies’ watch.
JM: My winner is, I think, an obvious one: a slightly atypical yet very gorgeous piece that has enough style to stand out and enough femininity to appeal to a broader base.
JM: The asymmetrical bracelet attachment is a strong design choice, especially when combined with the off-center dial and asymmetrical diamond bezel. The inset mother-of-pearl stone marquetry is incredible when you consider the entire scene is created using different types of mother-of-pearl. The outer dial is also mother-of-pearl with a guilloche pattern, and the styling creates a repeating crescent shape that mirrors the crescent moon in the inlay.
But the cherry on top is Caliber 102.0 inside, a stunning horological creation that earns this piece the crown for most impressive movement in the category. Overall, I think this watch shines in a variety of ways and stands apart as a true horological gem in the Ladies’ category.
IS: This is my clear winner too, Joshua. For those who care about what’s under the hood, there’s the superlatively hand-finished in-house Caliber 102.0 featuring a cantilevered balance cock with Grossmann micrometer screw, raised gold chatons, a removable winder module for ease of service, and mass-optimized Grossmann balance.
But it’s what’s on the outside that’s likely to attract the jury’s collective eyes, and here the Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise delivers big time: a discreet ring of diamonds around the bezel, guilloche dial, and stunning moon phase indication featuring a desert landscape (at night) on mother-of-pearl. Plus, there’s that supremely tactile milanaise bracelet.
I can’t see how Moritz Grossmann doesn’t take the best Ladies watch prize home this year.
TM: This category is an easy call: the Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise is a manifold aesthetic triumph while retaining horological significance below its winsome surface. Other watches in the pre-selection are indifferent, derivative, or both.
Working from the outside in, the asymmetrical hinge lugs are both ambitious and bold. Brands rarely take chances with lug symmetry, and few outfits attempt modern takes on hinge lugs. Look no further than the 2017 IWC Da Vinci debacle to understand how even a major brand can stumble when risking offbeat lug designs in the modern market. Asymmetry and hinges on the same set of lugs is brash and risky; Moritz Grossmann succeeds.
It’s a shame that we can’t escape diamonds in this year’s ladies’ pre-selection, but at least the Tefnut makes imaginative use of stones by embracing visual dissonance. The diminishing size of the diamonds from 9 to 3 o’clock drives the eye toward the mother-of-pearl marquetry image of nighttime dunes. Moreover, the scaled diamond setting is repeated around the nocturnal landscape itself. Offsetting the numerals creates the impression of a fully realized concept with conceptual coherence and a holistic artistic vision.
A rich milanaise bracelet and crown-side-only triple cabochon embellishments further declare Mortiz Grossmann’s projection of opulence as well as an audacious streak that sets it apart from the conventions of orthodox modern-day Glashütte wristwatch design. But the exceptional mechanical Caliber 102 trumpets both respect for contemporary Saxon finishing standards and for its female clientele. Other candidates in this category offer anonymous quartz calibers; MG offers exactly the same running gear that would grace a men’s watch.
MG: I find the Ladies category intriguing. And one watch that immediately grabbed my attention among the shortlisted timepieces is the Moritz Grossmann because it reminds me of a Hollywood blockbuster that changed director mid-production citing “creative differences.”
Unlike the opinions of my esteemed colleagues, I find this watch to be a hot mess of different styles that don’t go too well together. The worst part is actually the way the milanaise bracelet is connected to the case: on one end by a traditional lug and on the other by a hybrid Vendôme construction. That being said, I like the way that the brand executed the moon phase indicator but would have loved to see it in a different watch.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/tefnut-arabian-nights-milanaise.
Quick Facts Moritz Grossmann Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise
Case: 37 x 10.2 mm, pink gold with brilliant-cut diamonds and sapphire cabochons
Movement: manual winding Caliber 102, 48-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 3 screw-mounted gold chatons, untreated German silver components
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 53,530 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Perlée
IS: The Van Cleef & Arpels Perlée watch is pretty, but it is also quartz (and I favor mechanical). And it flirts a bit too much with being a jewelry watch.
SL: There is no mistaking the Van Cleef & Arpels Perlée for anything other than a ladies’ timepiece; beautiful design and workmanship from an esteemed maison. However, this one is perhaps more of a jewelry piece than a “pure” watch.
JM: This is an absolutely beautiful watch that I feel is entirely in the wrong category as well. For a basic Ladies category, this lovely jewelry piece is out of its zone and sadly misplaced even though the aesthetic and craftsmanship is top notch.
It’s even a secret watch, and the gold beading on the bangle and bezel makes the Perlée even perfect to wear with a gown, but an all-around ladies watch it is not. Given that it’s quartz and features much less stone setting than usual in the Jewelry category I can understand entering it in the Ladies category, but it still feels misplaced. This is why I think there could be a future split to create a Jewelry category and a High Jewelry category, kind of like Men’s Complication and Mechanical Exception, similar in essence but on a different level of execution. Something for the GPHG organizers to consider for next year perhaps.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/perlee-watch.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Perlée
Case: 25 x 12 mm, pink gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 62,500 Swiss francs
Ian: Moritz Grossmann Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise
Joshua: Moritz Grossmann Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise
Tim: Moritz Grossmann Tefnut Arabian Nights Milanaise
Martin: Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski
Sean: Chanel J12